When Pizzanada first opened up in March of 2020, they offered one lonely vegan option. Today, their menu is 50% vegan and it accounts for a whopping 75% of their sales. Pretty impressive.
“We should have named it Veganada,” laughed Christina Petocz who, along with her husband Joe, owns the Bloomfield restaurant.
So how did an omni restaurant that opened in the midst of a pandemic do this well- and become so vegan- in just over a year? It all started with a single request.
"My brother-in-law is vegan, so we added a plain vegan pizza to the menu for him when we opened. That's it,” Joe explained. But then they added vegan empanadas: chickpeas and kale, sweet potato lentil. And more pizza options.
Noticing that they had a lot more customers and were getting great feedback, they decided to go "real heavy" on the vegan options: Impossible stuffed peppers, eggplant rollatini with homemade ricotta, mac 'n cheese, taco empanadas (my personal favorite). You name it, they had it vegan. Even dessert empanadas with house-made cannoli and nutella filling!
"Everything we make, we make a vegan version," said Christina.
"And then we do vegan specials," Joe added, excitedly showing me pictures on his phone. "Something new every week: Stuffed mushrooms, chicken saltimbocca (pictured, bottom right), croquettes. And we have two kinds of vegan mozzarella stick options, traditional and hearts of palm."
For omnivores, they're pretty enthusiastic about vegan food.
"We go through 200lb of vegan cheese a week," Joe told me, "you have to see our freezer!" And see it I did. It was easily the most amount of vegan cheese I've seen in one place. In other words, heaven.
Aside from the shredded cheese and Impossible meat, their vegan stuff is made in-house: pistachio pesto, ricotta cheese, even their chicken cutlets and steak are made fresh in their kitchen (the cutlets are made from chickpeas, seitan, and seasonings, then breaded in coconut milk. Are you hungry yet?).
It's no surprise that vegans come from all over, even from down the Jersey shore. And despite opening their business at the start of the pandemic, they said it hasn't really hurt them. Instead, take-out and delivery apps really picked up and they took advantage of that. People even order single pieces of their home-made cake and brownies via apps like GrubHub.
But I was curious. As omnivores, did they ever think they'd have a mostly-vegan restaurant?
"Not at all. It was unbelievable," said Joe, and Christina reiterated his sentiments.
"We had no idea, it's crazy. It's all about the 'vegan love.'"
She nodded towards the wall where two big chalkboards hung above the seating area, with writing scrawled from one corner to the next. I got up to take a closer look: there were vegan sentiments like 'peace starts on your plate' and 'changing the world one bite at a time.' And silly doodles with customer signatures, including the first person to eat off their vegan menu and a shout-out from when How Delish dropped by last December. It was a communal vegan love board of sorts.
"'Tina and Joe are closet vegans,'" Christina laughed. "My brother wrote that one about us." I gently encouraged them to watch Forks Over Knives, the film that convinced her brother to go vegan for good. Fingers crossed.
As I was wrapping up the interview, Joe told me something about the 'vegan love board' that I found profoundly symbolic, and inspiring. When the restaurant first opened, the chalkboard contained a drawing of a butcher’s cuts of a cow. Today, it is overflowing with compassionate quotes, enthusiasm for vegan food, and love among a community.
It's no wonder people are enthusiastic over what they've established here; there is so much creativity and pride in what they do. I asked Joe what was something that really surprised them about their Pizzanada journey thus far.
“You know what it is? How passionate we got about trying to create these vegan meals. At first we figured it out just for him [Christina's brother]. But now we're making a lot more people happy."
I wonder what will be next for Pizzanada. Turns out, they're considering a second location and have even gone to visit some possible storefronts.
“Pizzanada II,” Christina said with a smile. “I think it might be Vegan-ada this time.”